January 21

January 21, 2018

Session three and four of the Spiritual Journey presented through Contemplative Outreach and Spirituality and Practice are a return to the beginnings of our centering prayer practice.  Session Three provides an excellent meditation by Julie Saad, taken from her reading of Open Mind Open Heart, as an entrance into our 20 minutes of quiet of Centering Prayer.  She reminds us “Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and feelings—our whole being— to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions.”

As we settle quietly, we open ourselves to the spiritual level of our being.  Saad reminds us “We surrender to the attraction of interior silence, tranquility, and peace. We do not try to feel anything, reflect about anything. Without effort, without trying, we sink into this Presence, letting everything else go by.”

And Saad takes from Keating’s Open Mind Open Heart in this meditation “This Presence is immense, yet so humble; awe-inspiring, yet so gentle; limitless, yet so intimate, tender and personal. I know that I am known. Everything in my life is transparent in this Presence. It knows everything about me—all my weakness, brokenness, sinfulness—and still loves me infinitely. This Presence is healing, strengthening, refreshing—just by its Presence. It is nonjudgmental, self-giving, “A Meditation” from Open Mind, Open Heart Page 2 of 2 seeking no reward, boundless in compassion. It is like coming home to a place I should never have left, to an awareness that was somehow always there, but which I did not recognize.”

In addition, in Session Three and Four, a video by Father Keating is also presented.  In the video, The Method of Centering Prayer, Father Keating provides a teaching on the Four Guidelines of Centering Prayer:

The Four Guidelines for Centering Prayer

 1.    Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within.
2.    Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within.
3.    When engaged with your thoughts,* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4.    At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. 

*Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections.

This is the suggested method we follow as we sit in prayer.  He emphasizes that Centering Prayer is a relationship with God, so the method is suggested, and not rigid, just as we would experience in any relationship with another.  Keating goes through each of the four guidelines and emphasizes the divine presence and action within which we consent to as we sit Resting in God. 

Keating encourages us to have a positive attitude toward our thoughts as we pray.  We will have thoughts and when we notice them, let them come and let them go with a smile.  He says “This prayer is totally non-violent” which gets a laugh from the audience. 

He addresses our difficulty with thinking while in prayer and says “The whole thrust of the prayer is to stop thinking. This doesn’t mean you’re not going to have thoughts, but notice this delicate distinction. We’re not going to think about the thought. You can have all the thoughts in the world go by, and they won’t interfere with the prayer. It’s only when you start thinking about the thoughts, feeling, that you interrupt your original intention of just being totally open to God, and that calls for some response to reaffirm your original intention, and to get back to where you started.”  This is when we return to our sacred word.

Keating illustrates the level of our awareness with a chart showing the top of a stream, which is our normal way of thinking, when “We’re kind of absorbed, or dominated, in our ordinary psychological life, by the objects of events and people, and our emotional reactions to them.”  Then as we sit in prayer we are able to let go of the thoughts that go by at the surface level of our awareness and we begin to go deeper.   In time, we are able to let go of the thoughts easier and we are able to open ourselves to deeper levels of our awareness, to our “spiritual level” which, according to Keating “you’re really not aware of most of the time except at the peak experience, or when life, or tragedy, or something brings you to that place.”

Keating teaches “The purpose then, of the Centering Prayer, is to move from this level to this level. And indeed, not to stop there—because the human being has greater depths than that—but to move even deeper, to the level of the true self, which is our participation in the divine life, and the Divine Presence itself as the source of our being at every level.”

In the next video, Keating goes over some things that may happen while we sit in centering prayer.  He discusses how our bodies hold past memories and emotions that have not been processed during our normal activities of daily living.  He says “You may also notice a few physical symptoms that are surprising the first few times you do this, like a little pain somewhere in the body, or an itch, or a twitch, or a tick. This is simply some little emotional knot stored in the body from earlier times that is close to the surface of your awareness and that uses this rest just enough to unwind the knot, so it appears as a little discomfort.”

Keating goes a bit further noting “The body is the storehouse of emotional undigested material or emotions that were not processed, so it’s the place where unprocessed grief is lurking.”  This is called a psychological-evacuation process which we may have avoided because “Thinking is a marvelous way of not facing the real issues of life. . . but that constant interior dialogue, it’s like a wall of protection against the unconscious.”

He concludes with “When this is broken down regularly by two periods a day, you gradually develop the habit of listening to the body a little more and, sure enough, the body begins to tell you what’s there and it’s unbelievable what’s there waiting to be processed.”

After listening to the videos I was curious about what people would contribute in the Discussion.  The retreatants discussed difficulty with sitting down twice a day for centering prayer and making time for two sessions of the prayer.  They also wrote of the frustration of “thoughts” during the prayer time and others wrote about the experiences of personal unloading of the unconscious during the prayer and their experiences.   One of the retreat directors wrote in the discussion that she “so resonate(s) with the title of this session, ‘Trusting the Process.’ To Trust the One who brings me TO the feeling/thought/situation/body sensation will see me THROUGH the feeling/thought/situation/body sensation is a core issue for me. “

I hope you enjoyed the summary of this week’s Spiritual Journey.  -Anne